Letter from Persons, Warren B.
|Soldier: Persons, Warren B.
|Unit/Service Branch: 64th Infantry
|Home State: New York
|Date Written: Saturday, May 30th, 1863
|Location: Camp near Falmouth, VA
|Correspondence Type: Letter
|Subjects: Camp Life, Combat Description, Commanders, Comrades, Daily Life, Eastern Theater, Family, On the March, Patriotism, Politics, Secesh, Strategy, Suffering, Tactics, Warfare, Weapons
|Link Source: http://kinnexions.com/smlsource/lettercw.htm
I am in receipt of yours of the 6th inst. and was glad to hear from you for if there is anything a soldier appreciates it is a prompt correspondent. I have some correspondents who seemed very anxious I should write to them but their anxiety does not seem to extend any farther. I think I shall expurgate all such characters from my list, for it is manifestly our duty to flee temptation and if there is anything that tries my patience it is to await an answer after it is due.
I received your letter soon after coming back from across the river and it found me in very much in such a frame of mind as a certain king of France must have been in"Who marched up the hill and then marched down again"
It is not necessary for me to give you the particulars of Hooker's movements nor their results as you have already heard these from the newspapers in better form than I can give them. though for the satisfaction of expressing my own opinion I will assert that if Sedgwick had been able to hold the heights of Fredericksburg our success would have been complete and glorious and if the 11th Corps had not broken and run. Hooker would not have been obliged to weaken Sedgwick's force so but that he might have held those heights.
We failed to accomplish much this time, but we are bound to thrash the rebs, in the end.
I suppose you have also learned the most important particulars of the part our Co. and Regt. took in the late movement but I will relate our doings as they occurred, as a connected, detailed account of them may not even so late as this, be wholly uninteresting to you.
At midnight Monday, April 27th we were ordered to pack up and march. We marched till 10 A.M. next day and halted in the vicinity of Bank's Ford. Where we built corduroy till noon Wednesday when we marched still farther up the river and camped for the night near U.S. Ford, During the night it rained, and as we had most of us lain down without pitching our tents we got pretty well soaked. When we awoke in the morning I found myself lying in puddle of water big enough for a small fish pond. I made rally on a slash fence close by and soon had a fire to dry our clothes and blankets and cook breakfast by.
That day we did not march much, but stopped to be mustered for pay. The troops are mustered for pay the last day of every second month and also to wait for the engineers to lay the pontoons: At length everything being in readiness we started to cross the river. Which we did about 7 P.M. April 30th. We scrambled up the steep banks on the opposite side over the rebel earthworks and gaining the crest of the heights sat down to rest. Here was presented to our view a sight such as even a soldier does not often see. The scenery of itself was wild and picturesque. With steep precipitous banks on either side covered with dense pine and cedar and the dark river, spanned with two lines of pontoons, swiftly flowing between, and down the defiles on one side and up through them on the other unending lines of baggage, artillery, ambulances, pack mules, horses, beeves, and contrabands and troops with their polished arms brightly gleaming in the setting sun exhibited the "pomp and circumstance of war" as I never saw before. In a short time we resumed our march turning into a piece of woods which proved to be a vast forest called "The Wilderness", it was near midnight before we halted which we did in the edge of the woods bordering on a small clearing. We remained here till next day, Friday forenoon. About 10 A.M. we heard cannonading and musketry not but a short distance off: we knew then that the ball had opened, and that we should have an invitation to join in. About 2 P.M. we were ordered to fall in and march. A quarter of a mile or so through a small piece of woods brought us to a large house standing in a large clearing about a mile square at the intersection of the turnpike running from Fredericksburg to the village of Wilderness and the plank road running from Fredericksburg to Orange Court House. This brick house constitutes the here after to be famous town of Chancellorville. On reaching this place we turned to the left and proceeded along the turnpike towards Fredericksburg. We now began to meet the wounded returning from the fight; some on foot and some in ambulances. The more gritty ones call out give it to them boys, others more faint hearted would assure us we would soon get enough of it. After marching along this "pike" about a mile we turned into a field on the left where we rested on our arms a few moments, we were then ordered to cross the road into another field which we did loading as we went. We were then ordered to advance into a piece of woods and deploy as skirmishers.
When a regt. acts as skirmishers it is usually divided into two parts, one to go in advance, and one to remain back in supporting distance as a reserve. The reserve remains in two close ranks while the advance is formed into single file rank, the men being five paces apart, This formation is called deploying. This time our Co. was in the reserve. We continued to advance into the woods half or three quarters of a mile, the hostile batteries playing over our heads. This was my first experience under fire. Soon our advance was seen coming back as if they were in a hurry, we waited until they came up and found the rebs advancing on our right flank with the intention of cutting us off. We fell back towards the road. and then towards Chancellorville the rebs following after With yells like so many devils. soon after gaining the road we passed Syke's regulars drawn up in line of battle across the road with two pieces of artillery planted in the road. We had just fairly got in the rear of these, the rebs yelling behind us, when one of the most terrific reports of firearms fell upon our ears that mortals ever heard, the earth fairly trembled beneath our feet. The rebel yells and cheers most suddenly ceased, and they went back full as fast as they came on. Joining the rest of our brigade we formed in line of battle in the field by Chancellorsville, and then filed into the woods north of the road forming a line perpendicular to it. As soon as this position was taken Col. Brooks com'd'g brigade called on Col. Bingham of our regt. for his three best Cos to go forward as skirmishers. Co. D was one of the three called for, we all went in advance this time, as the rest of the brigade could act as a support, We advanced something like half or three quarters of a mile so that we could see through the woods into the field beyond where we could see the rebs marching in and forming in line of battle. They were so near I could plainly hear the commands of their officers such as guide center, half right, etc. Presently they sent out a line of skirmishers to meet us, each of us took a tree and waited till they came within proper distance when we gave them a few volleys which they returned and then fled. We remained where we were which position we held all night watching the enemy. Soon after we had driven the rebel skirmishers back their batteries opened on us but as they did not get our range, their shells had no other effect than to trim out a few trees and amuse us a little. It was now dark and as I laid on the ground at the foot of a tree, I busied myself watching the shells as they came both directions: (our batteries were replying now) with their long trains of fire like comets, rushing towards each other and screeching and howling like mad demons in fierce conflict.
After a while this ceased and nothing was to be heard except the notes of the whipperwill, and the sound of busy axes showing that our men were preparing for the expected battle of the coming day. Just before daybreak we marched back into works made by our troops during the night. These works consisted of two lines, a picket line in front made by felling trees the same as in making a slash fence and another work other eighty rods back made by felling trees in the same way and strengthed with earthworks, and intended to be held by a line of battle. We stopped in the outworks. soon after sunrise the rebel sharpshooters came out and we exchanged compliments for a little while without doing much damage on either side. Then the batteries took it up and we had shell music till most noon. At noon we fell back to the line of battle where we found the rest of our regt. Nothing occured during the afternoon except that the rebs shelled us pretty sharp occasionally, causing us to lie low in out ditches. Just after sundown the 64th was ordered back to the works we occupied in the morning. The fight was now raging in it's fierest fury. The blaze and roar of cannon and musketry, along a line the length of which of which must be computed in miles, troops marching to and fro, relieving and being relieved, officers riding at full speed along their lines shouting their commands to their men; shells tracing their firing lines through the darkness of the night screeching and howling, over our heads and bursting and crashing among the trees, dense rolling clouds of battle smoke and a pale calm moonlight resting upon the whole, formed a scene strange, terrible and sublime. We occupied the works all night but no rebs appeared during the night. Some of us were lucky as to find some spades and shovels which we used to advanage in entrenching ourselves and it was lucky we did so, for me at least as the events of the morrow proved! Early Sunday morning those of us who were on the lookout described the rebel lines approaching through the woods. We saluted them with a discharge of firearms along our whole line and the action became general. The rebels steadily advancing on our works with a desperation and valor worthy of a better cause as fast as one fell, another stepped into his place. For two hours we loaded and fired as fast as we were able, but the rebs hard pressed on until they were so near that they began to pick away the brush that they might get at us and some even began to thrust with the bayonet wounding One man in the arm. We were now nearly out of ammunition , some having fired the last round. The order was given to fix bayonets, which we did, intending to give the enemy a bloody reception if they attempted to come over to us. Just at that instant they broke and ran leaving a perfect winrow of dead and wounded behind them, while cheers of victory went up from the gallant 64th.
During the action a ball penetrating the slight earthwork I had thrown up the night before struck me squarely in the breast, just below the collar bone, it hurt considerably but did not injure me any. The ball was warm when I picked it up. The dirt saved my life and I found as a card player would say that spades were trump that time. Eight of our Co. were shot dead in the works and four wounded. Russel Wilmarth was the second man on my right and almost within reach of me and Philander Kellogg was the second man on my left the fourth man on my left Charles Morey of Freedom was also killed. A stump to my left between me and Albert Adams, was hit a good many times as I could tell by the spat, spat of the balls as they struck. I do not know that I killed anybody, for I did not look after firing long enough to see, but I believe we killed and wounded more than our number, and I think it hardly possible I did not hit anyone, for I took good aim and I could easily hit a man at twice the farthest distance I had to shoot there. I am not anxious to know that I killed a man for if I should survive the war, I shall feel full as well not to know it.
Soon after the retreat of the rebels we were relieved by the 27th Conn. We had not much more than got out of the way when the rebels returned to the charge turned the right flank of the 27th and captured almost the entire regiment. Thus we again narrowly escaped being taken. As we fell back through the woods we had to run a perfect gauntlet of shot and shell. Our works were in the form of a horseshoe, the heel riding on the river, and the rebs shelled us from the front and both flanks. Go where we would the shells flew and burst around us in every direction, one shell passing within a few feet of me cut one man in two and wounded Frank Osborne in the leg. The weather was hot and the old leaves in the woods were so dry that they took fire in many places from the bursting shells and a great part of the woods was burnt over. In some places where we had to march the heat and smoke were almost suffocating. Everywhere we could hear guns going off which had been thrown away loaded, and shells bursting which had not exploded before.
Altogether it was such a sabbath as I never saw before and never desire to see again. I could not help but think that while we were passing through these trying scenes, our friends at home were enjoying the quietude and christian privileges of that sacred day of Christ. At last the firing ceased and at night were allowed to lie down and sleep. The first whole nights rest we had had for a week. The next morning Gen. Howard sent a request to Gen. Couch that the 64th might be allowed to support one of his batteries, as the regt. supporting it the day before broke and ran, we were accordingly sent. Gen. Howard met us with a smiling countenace and expressed himself as considering his battery perfectly safe now he had us to support it. We supported this battery or rather the 11th Corps as the boys were pleased to term it. till Tuesday night when the order came to get out of the "wilderness" which we did with great discomfort to ourselves as the night was dark and rainy, the roads rough and muddy so that we were continually stumbling into mudholes, and we had to ford one stream nearly waist deep, about midnight we came to the river and laid down on the wet ground, ourselves drenched to the skin, and slept soundly till morning, when we crossed the river and made the best of our way back to our old camps.
We are now camped some three miles north of Falmouth village in the open field with nothing but our shelter tents, yet we are very comfortably situated. Our shelter tents consist of pieces of cotton or linen cloth, about five feet square, with a row of buttons and a row of buttonholes on each of three sides, and in the corners of the fourth side loops are put so that they may be staked to the ground, each man is provided with one of these pieces, when we pitch camp, two crotched poles are stuck into the ground and a ridge pole laid across, this is the frame work, then two or four of these pieces according to the number of occupants are buttoned together and thrown over the pole, and staked down. We can have our tents staked close to the ground, or raised to any height above we choose, by using longer poles and corner stakes, we have ours raised about two feet off the ground. This gives more room and makes our tents more comfortable in hot weather by giving the air a chance to circulate through. Our beds or bunks as we call them, we make by driving four crotched sticks into the ground, laying to cross poles one at the head and one at the foot, and a sufficient number of other poles lengthwise of the bunk, so as to rest on these cross pieces: A few pine or cedar boughs scattered over them form a bed upon which tired soldiers can sleep full as soundly and will as though they were spread with the sofest eider down. Our bill of fare consists of a daily allowance of 1 lb. of bread 3/4 lb. pork or beef 2oz. sugar and what salt, vinegar and coffee we choose to use, also an occasional allowance of potatoes, sirup , and beans. We have a chance sometimes to buy some things at the brigade commesary department by getting an order from our officers. I have some dried apple, and some potatoes on hand now. Dried apple is 7¢ per lb, potatoes 50¢ per bushel. Sutler stores are dear, I buy but very little. Butter is 50¢ lb, cheese 40¢ lb, eggs 50¢ doz, apples 5¢ each, and other things in proportion.
We are anxiously awaiting news from Vicksburg, hoping to hear of its capture by Grant. If Vicksburg and Port Hudson fall I think I can see the end of the war, but if not there is no telling where the contest will end, but I am confident we shall ultimately win. We are vindicating the cause of the downtroden and oppressed. We are fighting the battles of Freedom, of Justice and of Right and my assurance of our final success comes from my faith in the justice and omnipotence of God. I do not think we have much to fear from copperheads. They will die of their own venom: We had Tories in the Revolution more numerous proportionally than copperheads are now, but the machinations of traitors can not avail anything against the decrees of Destiny.
Well, Dodge if you are as tired of reading as I am of writing you will be willing to quit. I must make apoligies for the appearance of my letters, I write so much and hurried. I have no time to pay attention to penmanship or composition, and am aware that often violate rhetoric and sometimes grammer. Please write soon.
My love to all.
Your affectionate nephew
64th NY Vol.